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A visionary leader | Newsroom | Washington University in St. Louis

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A visionary leader Larry J. Shapiro guides the University through the next era of medicine May 20, 2004

By Kimberly Leydig

With Brookings Hall standing sentinel in the spring sun, then-University Chancellor Thomas H. Eliot presented an aspiring young scientist his bachelor’s degree 36 years ago. After a 30-year career as an internationally renowned pediatric geneticist, Larry J. Shapiro, M.D., came full circle when he returned home to Washington University last summer to assume the positions of vice chancellor for medical affairs and dean of the School of Medicine. Now, as dean, he urges the University to build upon its solid scientific strengths and to lead the way in a second genetic revolution: “At the heart of what we should be doing is taking all of our advances in DNA sequencing, genetic analysis, imaging and other technologies and bringing them to the patient’s bedside.” A developmental biology class at the University taught by Viktor Hamburger and Nobel laureate Rita Levi-Montalcini sparked Shapiro’s interest in biomedical science. “The course changed my life,” he says. “It exposed me to new concepts and important fundamental questions. However, no one could have predicted then most of the things we now do on a daily basis. Completing the sequence of the human genome wasn’t imaginable when I was a medical student.” Already infused with the infinite possibilities of genetics, Shapiro was inspired to continue studying the nascent field by another University professor, William Sly, M.D., his longtime mentor. Sly was impressed by Shapiro’s brilliance, enthusiasm and voracious interest in genetics.


Larry J. Shapiro, M.D. (right), congratulates graduating medical students at Commencement last year. “Our students are absolutely spectacular,” he says. “Besides being very bright, they are also refreshingly idealistic, and most of them have come to medical school for the right reasons. It’s usually students who ask the most insightful questions and inspire you to think. They prevent you from getting too absorbed in yourself, and they keep you honest.”

“Dr. Shapiro’s breadth of understanding of clinical medicine and human genetics and its importance to medicine make him a great candidate to lead the School of Medicine,” says Sly, now chairman of biochemistry and molecular biology at Saint Louis University. “He has a remarkable ability to remain calm and composed regardless of the circumstances. I always thought these talents would have made him a great leader on the battlefield.” Great role model Even as an undergraduate student, Shapiro’s classmates and Kappa Sigma fraternity brothers foresaw his ability to be a great leader. “Larry was a great role model for our less-studious brothers in the house,” says David T. Blasingame, now the University’s vice chancellor for alumni and development programs. “One of my strongest memories is that Larry wanted very much to go to medical school, and he worked very hard academically to get there. He spent many hours at the library, and he raised the average GPA of the fraternity.” After earning his undergraduate and medical degrees from the University, Shapiro completed a pediatric residency at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. In 1973, he became a research associate in the Section on Human Biochemical Genetics at the National Institute of Arthritis, file:///Users/kimgordon/Desktop/Record%20Profile%20Dean%20Shapiro.webarchive

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A visionary leader | Newsroom | Washington University in St. Louis

1/9/14 5:04 PM

Metabolism and Digestive Diseases. Two years later, he joined the faculty at the University of California, Los Angeles, School of Medicine as an assistant professor of pediatrics and director of the Harbor-UCLA Genetic Metabolic Laboratory. In 1983, Shapiro was named professor of pediatrics and of biological chemistry, and in 1986 he became chief of the Division of Medical Genetics and also was named a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator. He went to the University of California, San Francisco, in 1991 to direct and expand one of the leading academic pediatric departments in the country and helped to establish the UCSF Children’s Hospital. “Larry Shapiro exudes an unwavering commitment to excellence,” explains Alan Schwartz, Ph.D., M.D., the Harriet B. Spoehrer Professor and head of pediatrics. “He is smart, intellectually curious and has a stalwart work ethic.” Creative spark The depth and diversity of responsibilities that accompany Shapiro’s role at the School of Medicine don’t allow much time for research or clinical endeavors.


Shapiro with his family: wife, Carol-Ann Uetake, and children (from left) Jennifer Reitz, Brian and Jessica.

While he misses working in the lab and treating patients, Shapiro says the challenge of administrative leadership offers a new and equally exciting opportunity. “Some people suggest that administration is boring, but I’ve discovered it’s an opportunity for another kind of creativity,” he says. “As an administrator, I’m faced with a series of problems, and, as in research, you gather information and get insights into how things can be done differently. It sparks a different kind of ingenuity.” One of Shapiro’s key goals as dean is to further the School of Medicine’s standing as one of the nation’s most highly rated medical centers — which requires solidifying its role as a leader in clinical innovation, advancing its very broad research agenda and refocusing its scientific and medical educational activities. Central to advancing the teaching component of the medical school, Shapiro says, is building the Farrell Learning and Teaching Center. The state-of-the-art center, slated to be completed in summer 2005, has been designed to draw people together from all disciplines of the School of Medicine and will soon serve as the main venue for biomedical education for medical and graduate students. “To enhance Washington University’s position as a world leader in medical education, the School of Medicine must provide a rich learning environment that reflects the continual evolution of medicine,” Shapiro says. “The center will provide us with an exceptional environment to produce our next generation of leaders.” Enhancing the complete student experience and promoting graduate education are also paramount to Shapiro’s mission. He also hopes to address issues of student indebtedness and how that affects the choice to pursue medicine as a career. The University’s cross-departmental and intercampus BioMed 21 plan — a $300 million initiative to transfer genome research into new medical treatments — serves as another hallmark of Shapiro’s vision. As the University solidifies its role as a world leader in biomedicine, Shapiro insists that building stronger bridges between the community and University also is key to that equation. “The people of St. Louis have supported Washington University wonderfully over the years, and it’s important to remember that generosity and to draw from the strength of that connection,” he says. “As an institution, we must always remember our obligations to give back to the community.” From attracting talented students and faculty to the area to serving as the region’s major health-care provider, Shapiro explains how the University reciprocates that support in many ways. “The Medical Center is the region’s principal safety-net hospital,” he says. “All you have to do is walk into the emergency department at Barnes-Jewish or St. Louis Children’s hospitals to see that we provide primary health care for many people in the region.

Larry J. Shapiro

Three adjectives that “When I was a student here, there were three public hospitals. Now all three are gone. For many describe you? “Handsome, courageous and charming,” people, we are their only access to health care.” he jokes. “Hopefully, it would Love for teaching be fair, ethical and creative — I hope that creative spark is If Shapiro weren’t consumed with the awesome responsibility of running the School of still there.” Medicine, he might be sailing. “I’d be on the ocean somewhere,” he says, recalling earlier days when he devoted much of his time to racing sailboats. His affinity for the ocean is shared with his wife, Carol-Ann Uetake, file:///Users/kimgordon/Desktop/Record%20Profile%20Dean%20Shapiro.webarchive

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A visionary leader | Newsroom | Washington University in St. Louis

who grew up in Honolulu and studied marine biology at the University of Hawaii. During his tenure at UCLA, Shapiro had the chance to take a mini-sabbatical for genetic research at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Uetake was supplementing her marine biology studies with biomedical and genetic research. The couple ended up meeting in “the most romantic of places: the lab,” Shapiro says. “The first productive thing we did together was publish a paper. And then we went to the beach.” Uetake soon moved to the mainland and joined Shapiro at UCLA.

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goes into pediatrics has an affection for kids and wants to help them. In my own case, I found pediatrics intellectually challenging and exciting because it’s an area of medicine that focuses on the scientific underpinnings of developmental biology.”

“She’s convinced I’m trying to take her farther and farther away from Hawaii and the ocean,” he jokes about their move from San Francisco to St. Louis. “Actually, she’s become a big fan of St. What’s changed about St. Louis. She’s fascinated by the changing of the seasons, and everyone at the University has been Louis since you’ve been away? “The entire city has so welcoming to us.” become considerably more In many ways, the University has always been like a second home to Shapiro. Not only is he a vibrant and diverse, especially graduate, he also has proudly watched two of his three children graduate from the institution. the Central West End. Now — largely because of the They also have been influenced by Shapiro’s passion for teaching. Jennifer Reitz (Arts & Sciences, 1994), Brian (Arts & Sciences, 2002) and Jessica (a graduate of the University of San substantial redevelopment efforts of the University — the Diego) are all teachers. area has been restored and Brian teaches high-school science and coaches track in Santa Barbara, Calif., and Jessica teaches revitalized into a thriving and fourth grade in Lawndale, Calif. Jennifer is taking a break from teaching to raise her two sons, trendy area. I have the same Jacob, 4, and Elijah, 1, with husband and teacher, George Reitz (Arts & Sciences, 1994) in hope for the Forest Park Nashville. Southeast neighborhood, one “Teaching has always been an aspect of my career that has given me a great deal of pleasure, and of the University’s most recent revitalization efforts.” my kids picked up on that,” Shapiro says. For him, Commencement is a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the talented students and renowned faculty as well as the University’s rich history and tradition. “Our students are absolutely spectacular,” he says. “Besides being very bright, they are also refreshingly idealistic, and most of them have come to medical school for the right reasons. It’s usually students who ask the most insightful questions and inspire you to think. “They prevent you from getting too absorbed in yourself, and they keep you honest.”


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